From well-known blockbusters to smaller sleepers, these 12 must-watch movies should provide plenty of thrills and chills for your viewing pleasure.
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The ideal thriller movie hits a certain sweet spot: it's hypnotic to watch, with compelling, stern-faced performances, fewer jump scares and gore than a horror movie, and more plot corkscrews than a straight-forward drama. When you're in the mood for the ultimate in cinema escapism, there's nothing better. We've curated a dozen of the best movies currently available on Netflix for your viewing pleasure, from high-profile original productions to '90s cyber throwbacks and chilling indie fare that will likely absorb every iota of your attention for a couple of hours.

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Credit: Netflix

Bird Box (2018)

In about the bleakest post-apocalyptic world imaginable, Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, trapped in a dystopian house with some other survivors (John Malkovich, Machine Gun Kelly, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes), who are avoiding a series of creatures that stem from a malevolent "entity"— if anyone lays eyes on them, they will go insane and try to kill themselves. Eventually, Malorie attempts to get her two children to safety by traveling to a secure community, but must do so blindfolded. 

EW's Leah Greenblatt said in her review, "There is no bigger how or why, just bare survival and a steely Bullock — suddenly, fiercely ready to fight for a half-lived life." It became the most-watched film on Netflix within 28 days of release at the time, and still ranks in the top tier of the most-watched Netflix films ever.

If you liked Bird Box, you might also enjoy: The River Wild (1994), in which Meryl Streep plays a mom navigating the elements while defending her family from an unhinged Kevin Bacon. Available on HBO Max.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) SAMUEL L. JACKSON CR: Andrew Cooper/TWC
Credit: Andrew Cooper/TWC

The Hateful Eight (2015)

In Quentin Tarantino's Western thriller, eight strangers are trapped in a snowbound saloon, including ­Samuel L. Jackson as a former Union officer, Kurt Russell as a grizzled bounty hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh as a doomed convict, and Walton Goggins as a racist sheriff. Obviously, this wintry oasis is headed for failure, functioning as a powder keg for these nefarious characters to start turning against each other. 

Upon the film's release, Chris Nashawaty said in his EW review, in "the slow-simmering Western The Hateful Eight, [Tarantino] sets out on a classic adventure right out of John Ford's Stagecoach and ends up in the caffeinated chaos that closed Reservoir Dogs."

If you liked The Hateful Eight, you might also enjoy: John Ford's aforementioned 1939 John Wayne-starrer Stagecoach, which elevated the classic Western to a higher standard in the early decades of filmmaking. Available on Tubi, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video.

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Credit: Netflix

Windfall (2022)

Charlie McDowell directs his wife, Lily Collins, along with Jason Segel and Jesse Plemons in this tense three-hander. A nameless stranger (Segel) breaks into the supposedly empty opulent vacation home of an unscrupulous mogul (Plemons) and his idealistic wife (Collins). When the couple shows up at the estate unexpectedly, the three are stuck together while waiting for the stranger's getaway money to arrive. 

Segel and McDowell apparently concocted the project as the ideal COVID movie; the lavish yet claustrophobic quarters ("It's nearly impossible not to let your eyes wander to the sprawling grounds and Instagrammable decor of the immaculate Ojai compound," stated EW's Leah Greenblatt) and tension-filled performances heighten the suspense, leading to an inevitable implosion.

If you liked Windfall, you might also enjoy: The Petrified Forest (1936), a decades-earlier portrayal of a man (Leslie Howard) and a woman (Bette Davis) trapped with the gun-toting Humphrey Bogart in an early role. Available for rent on Amazon Prime Video.

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Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Tom Ford's second feature unfurls a topsy-turvy plot within a plot. Wealthy Susan (Amy Adams), stuck in an unhappy marriage, receives the manuscript for a novel written by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), which is dedicated to her. That tale, also called Nocturnal Animals, tells the story of Tony (Gyllenhaal again), who goes on an ill-fated trip with his wife (Adams look-alike Isla Fisher) and daughter. Meanwhile, flashbacks depict what happened in Susan and Edward's relationship, offering some unexpected parallels to Tony's plight. 

The bleak noir offers some astonishing performances (especially Michael Shannon as a small-town cop who helps Tony), as well as so much food for thought it's tough to shake once it's over. EW's Leah Greenblatt called Nocturnal Animals "a fantastic beast of a film, intoxicating and strange."   

If you liked Nocturnal Animals, you might enjoy: Julie & Julia (2009), in which Amy Adams has another dual story line going as Julie, who attempts to make all the recipes in the first cookbook published by Julia Child (Meryl Streep). Available on Hulu (with Starz add-on) and for rent on Amazon Prime Video.

THE WEEKEND AWAY, from left: Ziad Bakri, Leighton Meester
Credit: Everett Collection

The Weekend Away (2022)

Leighton Meester stars in this murky mystery as Beth, a married new mom who goes off to visit her more glamorous friend Kate (Christina Wolfe) in a palatial apartment in Croatia. But when Kate disappears, Beth runs into one dead end after another trying to find her, until she eventually becomes a suspect in her friend's disappearance herself. The gripping whodunnit is only augmented by the idyllic seaside backdrop, which may make you long for a (less-eventful) weekend in the Balkan region yourself.

If you liked The Weekend Away, you might also enjoy: 2018's A Simple Favor, another mystery revolving around a typical mom (Anna Kendrick) and her more fascinating friend (Blake Lively). Available on Tubi.

THE NET, Sandra Bullock
Credit: Everett Collection

The Net (1995)

Back in the early days of her career, Sandra Bullock took on the entire internet in this '90s tech thriller. She plays Angela Bennett, a gifted but isolated programmer (she orders pizza online for dinner every night, back when this was the true height of technology) who stumbles onto a massive computer security conspiracy. In order to discredit Angela, an Illuminati-like organization wipes out her identity, online and otherwise.

Naturally, Bullock's savvy, plucky upstart turns the tables on them instead. As EW's Owen Gleiberman described Angela: "Danger makes her blossom, and when she's sitting in front of a computer keyboard, tapping into forbidden systems, her concentration is so compelling that we get the oddly ticklish sensation we're thinking right along with her." Come for the now-quaint tech references (chatrooms! Mac disks!), stay for the numerous Hitchcockian shout-outs.   

If you liked The Net, you might also enjoy: Hackers (1995) for a similar nostalgic look at the Wild West days of the World Wide Web, this time with a baby Angelina Jolie. Available for rent on Amazon Prime Video. 

Contagion
Credit: Everett Collection

Contagion (2011)

It's easy how Contagion actually became a sort of COVID research watch, as the rise of the pandemic caused many viewers to seek it out. Steven Soderbergh's pandemic thriller seems almost prescient now, as well as possibly too on the nose. Still, it's undeniably fascinating to see a modern-day plague play out in cinematic form, as now familiar players like the Centers for Disease Control toss out terms like "herd immunity" and "social distancing" as they futilely try to contain a worldwide medical crisis.

EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum described Contagion as a "scare-the-crap-out-of-you medical thriller about a viral pandemic that will have the immediate post-screening effect of causing a hand-washing stampede." If only we all had had Kate Winslet's no-nonsense medical expert explaining to us how quickly diseases like this one can spread. 

If you liked Contagion, you might also enjoy: Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later… (2002), for a more outlandish zombie-themed take on a pandemic. (That would never happen, right?) Available on HBO Max.

I Care A Lot
Credit: Seacia Pavao / Netflix

I Care a Lot (2021)

Rosamund Pike builds on her Gone Girl villainess status to portray Marla Grayson, a con artist who fronts as a professional "legal guardian" to fleece the elderly of their life savings. But Marla takes it a step too far when she meets Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), who seems infirm at first but actually has ties to important, dangerous people (like Peter Dinklage) who Marla would do well to stay clear of. 

Pike's duplicitous performance is a blast to witness, but seeing Marla meet her match is just as gratifying. As Leah Greenblatt wrote in her EW review, "There's good fun in I Care a Lot's setup, and in Marla's ruthless M.O." 

If you liked I Care a Lot, you might also enjoy: Gone Girl (2014), Pike's star-making role as the ideal guy's girl gone totally haywire. Available on Freevee or for rent on Amazon Prime Video.

Margin Call (2011)L-R Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley
Credit: Walter Thomson

Margin Call (2011)

A star-studded cast (Demi Moore! Stanley Tucci! Paul Bettany! Jeremy Irons!) bolsters writer-director J.C. Chandor's ambitious attempt to turn the 2008 financial crisis into a thriller. A busy New York financial office lays off a huge portion of its staff, including a risk assessment manager (Tucci). In his absence, a young underling (Zachary Quinto) picks up his project and deduces the disaster that's about to happen, sounds the alarm, and a row of financial dominos begins to topple. 

For those of us outside of the industry, Margin Call offers an engrossing look at the vulnerable foundations underneath the more-fragile-than-we-realize economy. In 2017, EW said that Margin Call "powerfully captures the day the money died."

If you liked Margin Call, you might also enjoy: Adam McKay's The Big Short (2015), which takes a similarly close look at the housing market. Available for rent on  Amazon Prime Video.

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Credit: Netflix

Gerald's Game (2017)

Based on a Stephen King novel long thought unfilmable, Gerald's Game primarily tells the story of Jessie (Carla Gugino), who steals away with husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) in an effort to spice up their marriage. At a secluded vacation house, Gerald handcuffs his wife to the bed in a seductive manner, but when she protests, they argue and he dies of a heart attack. Jessie has to save herself while also grappling with numerous demons from her past who plague her as her mental and physical states deteriorate. 

Even King himself was a fan of the adaptation, with most agreeing that it served as a long-overdue showcase for the woefully underrated Gugino, who EW's Darren Franich called "the rare performer who can suggest victimized despair and empowered triumph." 

If you liked Gerald's Game, you might also enjoy: 2010's Buried, which was also a fairly solo tour de force for Ryan Reynolds, who plays a man trying to escape being buried alive. Available on HBO Max.

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Credit: Allyson Riggs

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

After Yellowjackets, Togetherness, and Mrs. America, we'd straight-up watch Melanie Lynskey in anything, but even we missed Macon Blair's 2017 sleeper. Lynskey plays Ruth, a down-on-her-luck nursing assistant who decides after her house gets broken into that she's fed up. She hooks up with her odd neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) to go out on a quest to get her stuff back, leading to a quirky journey that's both suspenseful and inspiring for the downtrodden. 

Second only to Lynskey in luminescence in this movie is Wood, whose Tony named his dog Kevin and specializes in nunchucks and ninja stars. And Jane Levy is unrecognizable as one of the unsavory thieves. As EW's Clark Collis pointed out, the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for its reconfiguration of "the buddy-cop film — at one point, Ruth even flashes a toy police badge." 

 If you liked I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore, you might also enjoy: Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky (2017), a similarly offbeat cinematic heist starring Channing Tatum and Adam Driver. Available on Hulu.

THE GIFT (2015) (L-R) REBECCA HALL, JASON BATEMAN and JOEL EDGERTON
Credit: Matt Kennedy

The Gift (2015)

Not to be confused with Sam Raimi's 2000 fortune teller movie, Joel Edgerton's directorial debut (which he also wrote and starred in) starts out like a typical stalker thriller. Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a married couple who move from Chicago to California, where they run into Simon's old high school classmate Gordo (Edgerton). Gordo soon becomes clingy, with frequent unexpected drop-ins, and floods the couple with a series of unsettling gifts. When Simon tries to cut the relationship off, the trouble starts in earnest. 

As EW's Kevin P. Sullivan colorfully described, The Gift "effectively sees what other films in the genre do for their scares, shakes its head, and says, 'No, no, no. I'll show you messed up.'" But The Gift transcends the usual stalker movie tropes because it's not content to stack all the blame on the obvious heavy. Instead, it expands on the concepts of villain and victim, exploring how difficult it is sometimes to keep the past in the past.

If you liked The Gift, you might also enjoy: Ben Stiller's The Cable Guy, the 1996 cult stalker comedy starring Matthew Broderick and Jim Carrey. You may never look at Medieval Times in the same way again. Available on Hulu (with Starz add-on). 

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